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Taiwan Jones is the Buffalo Bills' heartbeat, Part I: 'Survival of the fittest'
Damn right it's "Super or Bust" in Buffalo. Why hide from that reality? Taiwan Jones certainly does not. Go Long dines with one of the NFL's most fascinating players for this two-part series.
Note: This is the first of a two-part series at Go Long.
BUFFALO — The salmon goes completely untouched for three hours. He was hungry. Taiwan Jones ordered himself a full meal at Vice Restaurant. But with an infinite supply of memories cycling through his mind, he quite literally never picks up his fork. Lounged inside a comfy booth, in a sleek “Chrome Hearts” black hoodie, with a scruffy beard that’s dangerously close to sprouting grays, the Buffalo Bills’ special teams ace is a factory of stories.
Stories that make you laugh. Make you cry.
From his childhood in Cali. To the pros in Western New York.
He’s got an infectious laugh, and a swagger that’s strikingly genuine. Told to take a break — to enjoy his meal — and the 34-year-old Jones only smiles, keeps going and this night pieces together the tale of one of the NFL’s most fascinating players. The first vivid memory that pops to mind? He was in elementary school, barely old enough to read, with his cousin, toying around with a water gun outside of his home in the Bay Area. “I’ll never forget this,” Jones begins. A kid was walking down the street and Jones’ cousin dared him to pull the trigger. He connected, completely drenched this stranger, and the kid didn’t do anything because Jones’ cousin was present — 1 vs. 2 was a bad bet. Yet what then happened at school felt like something “out of a movie” to him.
Taiwan walked out of class, looked down the hallway and, yikes. Not only was it that same kid but he now had a posse of four or five friends. Immediately, they all sprinted his direction. Jones ran all the way home, flew inside, slammed the door shut and was breathing harder than ever. “Why do you look scared?” asked Mom, spotting the angry mob outside. “Are you running from them?” With that, Mom moved the couch to create an indoor arena of sorts and invited the other kids in.
“You don’t run from anybody,” she said to Taiwan, before then turning to the kids. “If you all want to fight my son, you fight him in this controlled environment.”
She was not bluffing. Mom made Taiwan fight every… single… kid. One on one. As the fists flew, she did not intervene.
“The longest day of my life,” Jones says. “I remember as a kid: ‘Mom! What the…!?’ She taught me a valuable lesson that day: Don’t run from things. I never ran from a fight another day in my life.”
Nor did those kids bother Jones again. One or two even became friends.
He knows society is too sensitive to process such hardcore parenting today but thanks the heavens Mom raised him this way. He’s even thankful for all madness he witnessed in San Francisco and Oakland that day forward. Grisly as it was. Through all adversity in life, in football, Mom’s lesson stuck forever. He attacks the NFL now exactly as he attacked his first bout of fear that day in elementary school.
“I’m going to take this head-on. I’m not going to run from it. I’m going to just deal with it.”
Three decades later, that’s exactly how the entire Buffalo Bills team needed to respond to one of the most catastrophic finishes in pro football history. Sticking their collective heads in the snow — pretending like “13 Seconds” was a figment of their imagination — would ensure the Bills never sniff contention again. We’ve seen losses like this break teams. Forever. Seattle never recovered from that throw at the goal line, Atlanta crumbled after 28-3, even the concept of “chargering” has its roots in an epic ’06 collapse to New England. Ignorance is not bliss. Taiwan Jones, a team captain, was one player doing everything he could to make sure nobody forgot the pain of Jan. 23, 2022 because pain that cuts this deep should drive every red-blooded competitor.
The players responded correctly and — 11 months later — take a look at these Bills. They’re currently 11-3, in the AFC’s No. 1 slot, poised to make another run at the Super Bowl.
Re-climbing the mountain is psychologically the hardest thing to do in all sports. So far, the Bills have avoided the avalanche that buries so many teams.
Talent is a must. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs and Matt Milano and Jordan Poyer. Every contender needs stars on Sundays. But talent alone? That’s never enough. True Super Bowl contenders need a force of nature those other six days of the week. Here, in Buffalo, Jones is that energy source. Maybe you’ve seen him performing karaoke with left tackle Dion Dawkins and slot receiver Isaiah McKenzie on Instagram. Maybe you remember his 4.2 speed out of college. Maybe you’ve caught No. 25 streaking down to cover a kick or even remember that time his head gashed open in ‘18.
More than likely, however, you’re wondering “Who!?” and What!?” and therein lies the point. Winning in the NFL is about so much more than three hours on Sunday. A running back in name only, Jones has zero carries and one reception his five seasons as a Bill. He’s a core special teams player, a gunner who does impact the actual game in small ways. But Jones knows his value to the Buffalo Bills is applying all of his life experiences to the locker room as a singular source of positivity.
Taiwan Jones is the heartbeat of the team itself.
He’s tough. Nothing’s scary on a field when you’ve witnessed this many shootouts. He’s hilarious. Just wait for his all-time pranks. He is wise. There’s a true Taiwan Effect behind the scenes. His voice is one respected by both rookies and vets. So when he says something like this, listen up. There’s no running away from the very clear expectation for the 2022 Buffalo Bills. As the playoffs near, hell yes, it’s Super Bowl or Bust.
“A lot of us… no,” says Jones, correcting himself. “All of us feel like it’s Super Bowl or Bust. The bar that we set for ourselves is so high. We’re all, all in.”
It would’ve been easy for Jones and his tweaked hamstring to fly 2,000 miles west over the bye. But he didn’t. Everyone who was dinged up stayed in WNY because everyone’s been doing the little things since that numbing 42-36 overtime loss at Arrowhead Stadium. Into the offseason, Jones trained with Diggs in Los Angeles. The two got close. If Jones decided to go out at night, there’s a good chance Diggs texted a picture of himself working out. And vice versa. The two competed nonstop. “To push each other,” Jones adds, “to our limits.” When they weren’t tossing around dumbbells, the star receiver and special-teamer engaged in deep conversations about speaking a championship into existence this season.
“Because it can’t just be the starters or the superstar players on the team,” Jones says. “It has to be the practice squad. They’ve got to believe this. It starts with us captains talking about it. Preach it, but also live it and also hold each other accountable. The moral of this team… it’s time for us to have it all.”
He didn’t always love Buffalo. Far from it.
Now, this feels like destiny. Taiwan Jones has been preparing for this opportunity his entire life.
“Those guys,” he says, “know I’ll put it on the line.”
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Hood to hood to hood, Taiwan Jones’ upbringing was a fist-filled blur. It’s not that he was inherently angry. Not at all. Rather, he was always the new kid in hostile territory. He was tiny. He had a squeaky voice. He was fresh meat for bullies.
Jones felt zero choice but to constantly prove himself.
“That created a fighter in me,” he says.
Taiwan was only 1 year old when Mom and Dad separated. He lived with his mother, saw his father once a month and moved around both San Francisco and Oakland nonstop. The result? Survival skills that stick to this day. Witnessing how hard his Mom worked to keep a roof over their head helped and the confrontations with peers were constant. That battle royale in the living room established precedent — Taiwan would never back down. So, sure enough, Jones was suspended for fighting his first day of fourth grade. The punishment didn’t slow his roll, either.
Thinking back, Jones was in more fights than he can count.
Considering Mom had to make ends meet, the kids were often left home alone… with a little help. With pit bulls. Taiwan always felt safe with family pit bulls guarding the home. One dog was a particular breed of bad ass: “Kano.” Absolutely nothing could keep him down. Kano was hit by car, and survived. Kano ate rat poison, and survived. A neighbor with severe drug addiction issues once tossed rat poison over the fence, for whatever reason, and Kano merely got sick for a few days. Kano even took a bullet, and survived. When a police chase ensued in front of Taiwan’s house, Kano caught a stray bullet. Big whup.
And then there’s the greatest Kano memory of all. He can’t remember if a shooting or fight sparked the mayhem. Probably a shooting. Either way, his family was enjoying a barbecue at the neighborhood park when utter chaos erupted. Check that. An all-out stampede of humanity erupted. Hundreds upon hundreds of people were sprinting all directions and Taiwan’s little sister, all six years old, fell down. Adults started trampling over her and, quickly, Kano took action. The pit bull stood over the girl — started “barking like crazy,” Taiwan says — and forced everyone to run around her.
“My love for pit bulls stems from that,” Jones says. “I always felt protected.”
Granted, he couldn’t bring a pit bull to school. To defend himself, Taiwan started toting a knife in his backpack, got caught and that’s when Mom decided it was time for him to live with his father.
Off he went. To Antioch. A suburb about 35 miles northeast of Oakland. Jones remembers being one of three black kids in all of seventh grade. By the time he was a freshman in high school, that changed. Antioch began accepting families via California’s Section 8 housing program and, in a blink, he says the school populace became overwhelmingly black. More specifically, the suburb became a melting pot of kids from different hoods. A volatile mix.
“I guess you could say ‘gangs,’” Jones explains. “But it was more so neighborhoods in the Bay Area. That caused a lot of friction. One person would be real proud about his hood vs. another. That was Antioch. Right next to Antioch is Pittsburg and it’s its own hood itself. They always disliked anyone who wasn’t from Pittsburg.”
Jones never joined an official “gang,” but he gravitated toward the kids he knew were from San Francisco and the bad blood with Pittsburg was real. Very real. An “ongoing beef,” he says, raged “all the time.” Disputes were settled with both fists and guns and it’s chilling how casual Jones refers to “shootouts” as an aspect of everyday life. Maybe it’s our surroundings here at Vice. As a friendly waitress checks in, as soft music plays, the only danger either one of us would ever face in Western New York is a lake-effect storm. Yet, Jones relives shootouts with the same nonchalance as politely declining a cocktail.
“Things that shouldn’t be the norm are the norm,” he says. “I’ve been shot at or been in the vicinity of a shooting countless times. To the point where it doesn’t startle me, which is weird to say. But that’s the truth of it.”
Yes, shot at. Like the time his buddy had a birthday party and a fight ensued outside. When Taiwan ran outside, a car drove by and started shooting. He can still hear the Pow! Pow! Pow! ricochet. In a mad scramble, everyone sprinted back inside to take cover. Taiwan made it — barely — with his friend catching bullet fragments in the leg. No biggie. He even gives his friend hell for screaming like he was blasted by a 12 gauge shotgun. The majority of friends from those Antioch days are either dead or in jail or still in the streets. If not for sports, Jones would’ve joined them. “Those were my circles,” he adds, ominously. “Those were my peers. Why was I the one who made it?” Like another friend who was just shot and killed in Oakland two weeks ago. They were just chatting on social media. One week later? “Gone.” Nobody ever gets the full story, either. It’s understood that the lifestyle consumes you, then destroys you. Few ever escape. Several old friends are locked up for retaliation.
Dad wasn’t around much through his childhood but his eventful presence, in effect, saved Taiwan’s life.
For one simple reason: Son was hellbent on making Dad proud.
He enjoyed living with his Dad and sought his approval. This emotion, this yearning superseded any lure of the streets. Dad was all about sports, so Taiwan became all about sports. “Wanting,” Taiwan adds, “to get closer to him.” Neither ever talked about their feelings — this wasn’t a lovey-dovey relationship. Sports were all that mattered and sports harnessed Jones’ wild energy into a positive direction. All older siblings and cousins excelled in track, so that’s where Taiwan started. The butterflies before track meets? “Beyond measure.” On meet days, he couldn’t eat — period — until his events were all concluded. All because this was his chance to prove his worth to Dad. He ran the 100, the 200 and shined in the two events he hated most: the 400 and 4x400 relay. He pulled a 10.2 in the 100 and consistently ran in the 21’s in the 200. His state track was a murderer’s row of speed: Bryshon Nellum (future Olympian), Jahvid Best (future NFL running back), De’Anthony Thomas (future NFL return man).
Jones always felt more relaxed on a football field, so he gravitated toward football. The gangbangers, the drug dealers, all ugly influences saw this kid had potential and started leaving him alone. If you’re out of the game, you’re out. For us country folk, yes, it was very similar to everything we saw in The Wire. (Which, it’s noted, is one of Jones’ all-time favorite shows. He loved Marlo.)
“I started getting a pass,” Jones says. “I started getting recognized as, ‘Oh, that’s the guy that plays football. We’re not going to mess with him.’”
Nobody outside of family and friends even remember at this point but Taiwan Jones was a bad man at running back. At Deer Valley High School, he set a single-season school record with 19 touchdowns and ran for 1,466 yards (9.3 avg.). He then headed to Eastern Washington where, in 2010, he led the Eagles to their first FCS national title with 1,742 rushing yards and 17 scores despite missing the final three games.
Beau Baldwin, the head coach at Eastern Washington, remembers a palpable “electricity” whenever the ball was in Jones’ hands.
“He could score from anywhere,” says Baldwin, now the offensive coordinator at Arizona State. “His top-end speed to go 80 or 90, he did it repeatedly. And he did it against upper-level opponents, too. Not just in the Big Sky. He looked wiry for a running back, but he played strong. He was such a threat every time he touched the ball.
“He gave the defense anxiety.”
Defenses were so terrified of getting burnt that they wouldn’t commit to anything, as if all 11 players were playing on their heels. “Because they know if they over-pursue,” Baldwin adds, “he’ll cut back.” Jones got into a habit of breaking ankles early in games because defenders weren’t used to this type of running back. And then, the final three quarters, they’d all get hyper-nervous about their angles. Jones trained hard, yes. But Baldwin was most enamored with Jones’ rare, “God-given stuff.”
The kid was a spectacle both on and off the field. He’d jump out of a pool in four feet of water. His shoulders completely submerged — all you’d see is Jones’ head above water — he’d stick the landing with one powerful swoop. From three feet, he could jump out of the pool backwards. Jones always lit up the team’s dunk contest on the basketball court and, out in the parking lot, his favorite thing to do? Jump over the width of cars. With a running start, he’d straight-up hurdle a car from passenger side to the driver side. “That stuff,” Baldwin adds, “was common for him.”
And the head coach’s favorite memory was ahead of that 2010 season when former Eastern Washington-turned-Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Michael Roos held a fundraiser for his foundation back at his alma mater. Roos would bring NFL teammates with him and, this day, quarterback Vince Young was in town. Eastern Washington players helping out with the event tried baiting him into racing their star running back. “This dude’s fast!” they prodded. Young dismissed them with a “C’mon. No way.” Finally, the former national champ turned to Jones. “So you’re fast?” he asked. “You want to race? Let’s go race.”
“And I’ll never forget. It’s etched in my brain,” Baldwin says. “It was such an epic, easy, calm line in Taiwan’s high voice. Taiwan just looked at him and goes, ‘You better warm up really good!’ That’s all he said to him. When Taiwan reacted that way, Vince kind of paused for a second and got out of the situation. Like, ‘Whoa. That’s what this guy is about.’ I about fell off the chair. It was perfect comedic timing. He wasn’t even trying to be funny. He was trying to be himself.”
Indeed, Jones possessed the superhuman trait every NFL team covets: speed.
A broken foot sidelined Jones at the NFL Combine and it killed him to watch all the running backs plod their way through the 40-yard dash. He would’ve resembled a F1 car next to these slugs. Nonetheless, he snuck in a pro day workout two weeks before the 2011 NFL Draft and ran a sizzling 4.27, a time that proved he’d leave pro tacklers in the dust. Jones figured he’d go second or third round. The Miami Dolphins sure seemed extremely interested. The first three rounds passed. His name wasn’t called. He was “pissed.” So pissed Jones didn’t even wake up for the fourth round the next day.
A local number called him twice, he didn’t answer, he figured it was another friend wondering why he wasn’t getting drafted.
The third time, he picked up and it was the Oakland Raiders. A team that hadn’t talked to him at all leading up to the draft was making him their 125th overall pick in the fourth round. “I went from being so sad and depressed,” Jones says, “to the happiest I could ever be.” Knowing he was local, the Raiders said they’d love to welcome Jones in for the press conference that began in 45 minutes. Jones was actually 70 minutes from the facility, but said he could make it. He was too excited.
Once he reached the highway, Jones quite literally slammed the gas pedal.
He did at least 120 MPH… and that’s no exaggeration. Laughing, Jones assures he went “as fast as that Honda could go.”
Upon exiting the Caldecott Tunnel, he was pulled over. The police officer was more shocked than angry. “What are you thinking?” he asked. Jones told him he was just drafted, the officer asked, “Which branch?” and Jones explained he was drafted into the NFL. He was hustling off to his first day of work. At which point, the officer showed quite a bit of mercy, jokingly acquiring Jones’ “autograph” on a speeding ticket when he very, very easily could’ve sent the draftee straight to jail.
Once Jones arrived at Raiders HQ, the coaches couldn’t help but laugh. How fitting. Owner Al Davis was obsessed with speed.
Then, Jones blazed an NFL trail he never would’ve imagined in a million years.
No rookie dreams of sprinting down the sideline as a gunner on special teams just as no college grad in any field hopes and prays to scrub urinals at an interstate rest stop. The job is shameless. There is zero fanfare. No way did Taiwan Jones envision a life banished to kick coverage.
He was here to blister defenses with that 4.2 speed.
Yet that’s the thing about life in the NFL. It tends to punch rookies squarely in the jaw. Those 2011 Raiders had a speed back (Darren McFadden), a power back (Michael Bush), a classical fullback (Marcel Reece), even a fourth back in 32-year-old Rock Cartwright. Sensing Jones’ frustration, Cartwright pulled the rook aside and, first, pumped him up. Told Jones how truly gifted he was, how his future was in his hands. Then, he filled Jones in on a secret: Embrace special teams and he’ll play forever.
That single conversation is the reason why Jones is still playing.
Only two of the 29 running backs drafted in that class are left in the NFL: Jones and Heisman-winner Mark Ingram. Talented players flame out every year because they’d never even think about swallowing their ego to this degree. They clamor for the ball, they demand trades, they get released. All while a golden ticket is sitting right there. Those willing to become such cogs of a machine last forever. Think, Steve Tasker in Buffalo. Think, Matthew Slater in New England. It would’ve been easy for Jones to tell Old Man Cartwright to shove it. He did not. Through four head coaches, a move to cornerback and a move back to running back, he stuck as a core special-teamer for six seasons with those Raiders.
“It was really survival of the fittest for me,” Jones says. “I always had to reprove myself. Wherever the team needed me, I did it.”
Every team needs calloused, selfless grinders. On what he labels a “raunchy” Raiders group — controversy’s never far away with this franchise — Jones was more than willing to grab a mop. But don’t get it twisted. This is no lifeless grunt, no bore. Jones is a thrill-seeker who owns six dirt bikes, four ATVs and… yeah. He recently made the executive decision to quit dirt-biking until he retires. “Because I’m such a daredevil,” he adds. “I tell myself, ‘Oh, I’m going to be real chill,’ and then find myself going off a jump.” Jones is the source of electricity every team needs in its locker room. That much is clear to anyone who watches his karaoke sessions each Friday with Dawkins and McKenzie on Instagram. Four such “concerts” jamming to Jagged Edge’s “Where the Party At?” and The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” and Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” amongst many other hits have garnered 75K views on his account.
Smashing into other human beings for a living takes a mental and physical toll. All teams with championship aspirations need personalities who keep work fun through the doldrums. All teams need a Taiwan-like character who keeps it light at the office — one prank at a time. Oh, Jones is a joker at One Bills Drive. He’s 34 going on 14. He’ll stick stuff into peoples’ ears. He’ll sneak into a meeting room, hide, and as soon as a player enters… “Ah!” Jones has phone recordings scaring the bejesus out of rookie James Cook. He always gets Josh Allen, too.
These days, he keeps it PG. But in his heyday? As a young Raider? Jones was coldblooded.
Asked to share his best pranks ever, he pauses. He laughs. He cautions that it depends on how inappropriate he can be. Assured that our readers can stomach anything, Jones proceeds.
Early on, college friends used to always ask about NFL life. The partying, the women, it all had to be surreal. Friends told Jones that they wanted to live the full experience with him. (His wheels started turning.) Another day, McFadden saw a picture of a pretty girl on social media and said, “Who is that!?” (His wheels turned some more.) Jones told McFadden he knew the girl — an abject lie. Smiling inside like the Grinch, he cooked up his own wonderful, awful idea. He told McFadden he actually went to school with the girl. “Dee,” they called her. He then told one of his friends who was coming to visit the same exact thing. And to ensure neither pried for details, Jones told both independently that “Dee” — a person that did not exist, remember — was very self-conscious about her job. As a stripper. He advised both to keep the conversation to small talk.
He gave McFadden his college buddy’s number… said this was “Dee.”
He gave his college buddy McFadden’s number… said this was “Dee.”
And the fun began. The two texted each other for more than a week. Both chatted it up with a girl who was completely made up.
“Every day McFadden would bring it up to me,” Jones says, “it took everything in me to not bust out laughing.”
When McFadden texted a picture of himself, the college buddy called Jones. “Yo!” he yelled. “What the f--k!” Jones cackled uncontrollably. The ruse wasn’t over yet, either. To his shock, the friend didn’t fill McFadden in on the gag. He was so mad that he didn’t inform the Raiders star that there was no “Dee.” The next day at practice, a despondent McFadden told Jones that he didn’t think the girl liked him anymore, that he sent Dee a picture so she’d see who she was texting and she didn’t respond. He was bummed out.
Miraculously, Jones did not immediately collapse into a puddle of tears. He remained diabolically calm and told McFadden not to worry. “She’s just playing hard to get,” he said. Just the other night, Taiwan continued, she couldn’t stop talking about McFadden. So, McFadden kept texting. And texting. And finally, the college buddy called to inform the Raiders running back that he was a dude.
McFadden wasn’t pleased.
In front of Raiders staff, he lost it. Everyone cried tears of laughter.
“Oh, he wanted to kill me,” Jones says. “Kill me.”
Part of McFadden couldn’t help but be impressed. This was quintessential Taiwan. Another time, after a night out in L.A., McFadden and Tyvon Branch were fast asleep at the hotel. They all had an early flight in the AM — Jones was irate that he needed to pack their bags — so he devised another prank. He cuddled the two sleeping teammates together, took both of their cell phones, snapped photos of them, tucked the phones back in their pockets and then swiped all of their expensive jewelry. Jones brought McFadden back to his room and scheduled wake-up calls for everyone.
By the time all three were taxiing to the airport, both McFadden and Branch were livid over their missing jewelry. They figured a girl they met at the club robbed ‘em blind.
Then, they started sifting through their phones to investigate.
“I can see them in their phones trying to figure it out,” says Jones, imitating them with his phone. “And then they come across the picture. First, it was Tyvon. He was looking at his phone and he was just like…”
Jones emphatically drops his phone on the table.
“And then he was just sitting there in silence. I’m in the backseat just f--king dying on the way to the airport. And then I see McFadden in his phone. He was like, ‘What the f--k!’ He showed Tyvon and goes, ‘What the f--k?!’ And I just started dying laughing. They just knew it was me. I was like, ‘I didn’t get any sleep trying to pack y’all bags!’”
Miss this week’s episode of The Isaiah McKenzie Show? Episode 7 is live at GoLongTD.com. The team’s “Face of the Franchise” dissects Buffalo’s win over Miami and we all end up sharing… ghost stories? Why the hell not. Enjoy.
Those Raiders lost — a ton — but there was value in seeing how a bad NFL franchise operates. He learned what not to do. In 2017, Jones signed with the Buffalo Bills, and honestly? His first stint was miserable. He hated living here. He received all the warnings, too. Close friend Marshawn Lynch spent 3 ½ seasons as a Bill and didn’t exactly have the nicest things to say about the city. Admits Jones: “I dreaded coming here.” The competitor in Jones still wanted to have a role on offense. Being relegated to special teams, again, was a drag. Even worse, his ’17 and ’18 seasons both ended with painful injuries.
The first year, his arm snapped in six pieces. That’s right: six. Down 34-14 in a blowout loss to the New York Jets on Thursday Night Football — “we were getting our ass whupped” — the Bills attempted an onside kick with 4:10 to go. Jones dove headfirst for the ball and, as he pushed himself up, a player crashed in from behind. His arm had nowhere to go. That ensuing offseason is when Jones first asserted himself as a true leader. With a rehabbed arm, he still won the team’s “Iron Man Challenge,” a series of various competitions. Teammates noticed. He was voted a captain in 2018.
“And then, boom, I got hurt again.”
Boom is a gentle way to put it. Against the Chargers, Jones corralled a teammate’s fumbled punt in the end zone, his helmet popped completely off, he turned around and… holy hell. He was tattooed by linebacker Uchenna Nwosu. It was a scary sight. Suddenly, that fighter from Antioch was surrounded by players all on one knee. His head was gashed open, bloodying his white headband.
There was no time to surrender when that helmet popped off. Not that Jones had any intention of surrendering.
“As soon as I turned around, he was already there. Bam! The crazy thing is, I never lost consciousness. I just remember thinking, ‘This is going to be bad,’ and then being on the ground I was thinking, ‘How bad is this?’ I didn’t lose consciousness, so I’m OK. I didn’t quite feel any blood just yet. But I knew it couldn’t have been good.”
This wasn’t like a car accident. His life didn’t flash before his eyes in a split-second because there was no time to brace for impact. He never even saw Nwosu. “I never had that moment,” he says. “That moment hit me.”
Jones actually tried playing the next three games but felt sharp pains down his body. Upon further exam, this was never a head injury. Doctors discovered a hairline fracture in his neck. Jones headed to IR to let the bone heal on its own. This was also the height of the NFL’s kneeling controversy. A major reason Jones did not re-sign with the Bills in ’19 — and harbored zero intentions of ever returning — was that he believed the organization was not listening to its players. After the Bills received backlash for players kneeling during the national anthem, Jones says ownership asked players to stand. Looking back, he fully understands their position. In the moment, however, he says it didn’t sit well with players.
“We didn’t feel like we were heard or why we were doing it was important to them,” Jones says. “But again, me looking back now, I have to put myself in their shoes. It had to be a tough decision for them. We felt like we weren’t being heard and, yeah, we were facing some racist stuff. I remember there were games people were screaming at us because we took a knee. It’s a small town. A lot of people knew my car. So I would get racist stuff yelled at me after games.”
Never the N-word. But during games, he does remember hearing, “All you blacks need to stand up.” Comments that didn’t sit well.
It was time to go. Football-wise, he either wanted more opportunity on offense or more money and the Bills were offering a minimum salary. Jones signed with the Houston Texans where, as luck had it, Jones got his shot at sweet revenge. His Texans hosted the Bills in the wild card round of the ’19 playoffs, a matchup Jones circled on his calendar. He could not wait to stick it to his old team and did exactly that. From Buffalo’s 44-yard line in overtime, quarterback Deshaun Watson was walloped by two unblocked blitzers from both sides, spun free, dumped it off to Jones in the right flat and Jones hit the gas like that day he was drafted. His 34-yard scamper teed up a game-winning, chip-shot field goal and ended Buffalo’s season.
And yet, he felt no urge to go full heel. As players congregated at midfield, a weird feeling overcame Taiwan Jones.
He felt… bad.
“Because,” explains, “I actually had real relationships with these guys. I saw the kind of season they had. To see it end, it wasn’t something I would’ve celebrated like, ‘Ha, ha, in your face!’-type of thing. I felt bad for those guys.”
Free agency arrived once more, in March 2020, and he returned. He felt he owed the city of Buffalo itself a second chance “to show who they really are.” And these three years since? The Buffalo Bills and Taiwan Jones became synonymous.
“I fully embrace Buffalo,” he says, “and I feel like Buffalo has embraced me. Now, I love it. I’m definitely in a happy place.”
This is home. He’s changing lives.
He fully intends to deliver a Super Bowl to this city.
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